On today’s episode of a Cat and a Book, we get to see a troublesome pair of kitties partnered with One Sweet Christmas story Marie Long. Without further ado, here we go:
Deck the halls and string the garland, it’s time for a ho-ho-ho-holiday bake off!
Eager to elevate her business to a can’t miss tourist attraction in White Pine, Arianna Willis has her heart set on winning the town’s Christmas dessert contest. It really roasts her chestnuts to learn Mark, a chef there on vacation, is attempting to steal that coveted title from her.
Mark Ellison didn’t mean to be the lump of coal in Arianna’s stocking. Having visited her bakery, he knows her talents in the kitchen can’t be denied. Still, coerced into helping out another local business, his competitive streak won’t allow him to submit anything but his very best.
Yet from their rivalry a flurry of attraction begins to form. Will Mark honor his previous commitments, knowing it could hurt Arianna’s bakery? Or will a life with her, in that picturesque small town, become the greatest gift of all?
Want to read more? You’re in luck! Marie has kindly sent over a sample of her book. Happy reading!
Sweet Peach Bake Shop was slammed tonight. Resident pastry chef Arianna Willis was debuting her Christmas Memories pairing of peppermint cookies and white hot chocolate during the weeklong Festival of Lights leading up to Christmas Day, and a record crowd had gathered. The line of bundled patrons was out the door of the tiny shop, wrapped around the corner, and down the sidewalk of White Pine’s historic downtown. Arianna scrambled behind the counter, preparing drinks, packaging cookies, and ringing up customers. She had spent all morning baking, decorating, and preparing her limited-edition cookies and hot drink, expecting a small crowd for her soft launch. But she was selling her new offerings faster than she could blink.
After moving to the quaint Vermont town three years ago and acquiring the shop, Arianna had grown accustomed to the small crowds of locals and the few tourists who passed through during the year. But this holiday season was proving different. Christmas was a big deal in White Pine, and Arianna had never seen another town transform into such a magical storybook fantasy. As a result, the town had seen a larger influx of tourism than in past years.
Arianna was down to her last batch of cookies, and the line of waiting patrons didn’t let up. She was sure to run out of treats well before six o’clock, when the festival’s third evening of events began. Tonight was the snowman-building contest, and most of the patrons were families with small children. Arianna hated the thought of disappointing so many of them when she was unable to provide some sweet and delicious Christmas magic.
“I’d like one order of your Christmas Memories pairing,” a man said in a smooth voice. “And can you package the cookie in a pretty box?”
Arianna shook off her thoughts. A tall man with almond-toned skin stood at the front of the line, bundled up in a black leather jacket and a black-and-grey plaid scarf. A warm smile traced his solid jawline, which sported a shadow of a beard. Her heart stuttered briefly, and she returned his contagious smile. “Coming right up, sir.” She opened the glass display case and retrieved a Christmas tree–shaped peppermint cookie—the very last one—with a pair of metal tongs. She set the cookie in a small, wax paper–lined box printed with holly and candy cane images and secured the box with a glittering gold ribbon. A sweet gift for his wife or child. What a thoughtful, loving gentleman.
Turning her back to him, she faced the hot chocolate machine and tried to focus while she filled a paper cup with white hot chocolate. Her brain was frazzled. She wondered if that mysterious, handsome gentleman was local or just passing through. She’d never seen him before. Still, the man’s presence made her heart stutter, an emotion she hadn’t felt in years. She couldn’t worry about relationships and how long it had been since she’d had a date when she had a business to run. And with Christmas approaching in three days, all her efforts would be spent baking and helping others make sweet memories.
She set the cup and box on the counter. As she rang up the items, the man slid some money across to her.
“Keep the change,” he said.
Furrowing her brow, Arianna looked from the register to his hand splayed over a twenty-dollar bill. Her eyes widened slightly. She wasn’t sure whether she should be surprised by his generous tip or by the fact that he didn’t sport a ring. Must be a gift for his girlfriend, then. Arianna hoped that girl knew just how lucky she was to have a handsome gentleman like him. “Th-thank you,” Arianna finally said.
The man grinned and took the items. “You’re welcome”—he glanced at her name tag— “Arianna?”
She smiled softly and nodded. Hearing her name on his tongue brought warmth and joy to her heart.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Mark.” His eyes bounced back to the display case and suddenly widened. “Wait, are those macarons?”
Arianna held her head proudly. Those were her prized sweets. After many failures, she’d managed to master the art of making the perfect macaron. “Sure are.”
“Not many chefs can pull off the perfect macaron. Yours are flawless. Smooth skin with just the right lift in the feet. You have a good folding technique since the shells have a healthy rise. I’ve never seen anything more amazing.”
Arianna beamed and felt her cheeks flaming. He sounded knowledgeable. Is he a chef himself, perhaps? “Thank you.”
He nodded and turned as if to leave. “Thanks for the chat. I’ll leave you to it. Merry Christmas.”
She watched him squeeze through the crowd at the entrance and disappear into the square under the gentle haze of falling snow. Merry Christmas, Mark.